I tried to kill her once. My sister. My spider. More than once, actually. I tried smothering her, starving her out, slipping an x-acto knife between her abdomen and mine. Jamming a fork into her eyes. Nothing worked. Once or twice, she sunk her fangs into me when I tried, but the venom that made everyone else crawl and weep at my feet had no effect on me, just sizzled against my skin.
Every time I tried to kill her, I imagined she’d drop off of me like the withered black stump of umbilical cord my mother pasted into my baby journal alongside pictures from the day I was born: me, tiny and pink and wailing; my spider, her soft exoskeleton already hardening, all eight legs waving over my chest; and my parents grinning at the camera, exhausted and giddy and terrified of what came next, when they’d have to leave the hospital and take me home. They weren’t scared of my spider for whatever reason, but plenty of people were, and my granddad insisted we should have been drowned at birth. I couldn’t help but see his point—I mean, I looked normal. But then my shirt would ride up or someone would hug me, and the day would end in screams and a visit to the emergency room. My spider bit besties and boyfriends and lab partners. We ran out of mice once, and she bit my cat. I woke to bloody sheets and a cat-shaped burrito of silk laying next to me, and my spider, looking well-fed and clicking happily.
I suppose she was terrifying, but the thing I couldn’t stand was how everyone blamed me. Why couldn’t I control her? Or at least keep her to myself? My life would be great, I thought, without her hanging around on dates. I could cancel the pet store’s standing order for white mice. I could shower at the gym! Maybe one day I could have sex with someone—anyone—without having to explain that it could kill them.
After years of grad school and shit jobs and ACE bandages tight as a tourniquet to smash my spider down under my dress, I bought a big black can of arachnid Raid and sprayed it in her face. I watched her legs seize and flail until a terrible burning sensation flooded my limbs. I hoped it was the feeling of her dying. It was not.
I ended up in a slick pastel terror of a psych ward and endured weeks of tests and meds and group therapy till the doctor said I was stable and unlikely to take my life— that’s how she put it: your life. Just the one. She put up a scan from some fancy new imaging machine she’d developed after the dead started waking up. The image was like a cloudy x-ray, a blue blur of breastbone and ribcage, carapace and thorax, and— “Your soul made manifest,” the doctor whispered. My spider wasn’t just attached to me, she was me—my inside out.
It took me a long time to get my strength back after that, a long time to get used to the fact that there was no undoing us. And then we hunted, and it erased every wasted night spent crying into deep glasses of wine, all those fumbling moments in the back seats of cars with boys I hoped would make it out alive. All of that shrank to nothing compared to the feeling of choking the life out of one of them, the satisfying shudder and shake of his limbs as my spider’s poison loped through his veins. Weren’t we lucky? Hardly anyone knows what they’re made of. Hardly anyone knows what they’re for, but I licked bloody tears from his face and knew I would never have to be as bored or alone as I would have been with him. Never again.
Erinn Batykefer earned her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the author of Allegheny, Monongahela (Red Hen Press) and The Artist's Library: A Field Guide (Coffee House Press). She is co-founder and editor of The Library as Incubator Project, and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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